‘The Photograph’ – Graham Clarke

Being the book provided with the course materials it is of course the first book I suppose anyone doing the Art of Photography reads, it certainly is with me, however I do hope the rest of the recommended reading list is easier to read, and understand, than this one.

I wrote a blog post on 30th June 2011 discussing my beliefs on this book, not very complementary, and having read a lot further than at the time I wrote that post, I haven’t changed my opinion one jot.

As far as I can tell the author is showing the world that he has a vast vocabulary, many words of which obscure the comprehension, and make the reader require a dictionary and/or a degree in English before a complete appreciation of his prose can be obtained.  There are too many references to photographers and photographs not depicted within the book and really requires the reader to look for obscure transcripts and references that are not necessarily available on the internet.  All this makes me wonder what the value of this book has for a first year student!

Mill at Hurst Green – Roger Fenton (1819 – 1869)

I found that where reference was made to photographers and their photographs, which are depicted within the text, then after some time and re-reading the points the author was making, became clearer.  However when, in my opinion, the author uses modern standards to denigrate a period photographers use of posed subjects, as implying an idyllic setting and period conformity, to fulfill accepted opinion of that period in time, his standards are false. Before modern cameras, and by that I mean cameras with shutter control that could be adjusted easily for fractions of a second, the scene would have to be posed as any movement would create unacceptable blur.  (We have to take into account that photography was trying to imitate art at this point and all subjects needed to be captured clear and blurless.)   As soon as a non-actor is asked to pose for a photograph, self-consciousness kicks in and their posture shows this, and this is clearly what is happening in many of these early images.  We also have to accept that tastes change over time.  Would many people today decorate their living space as the people of the high Victorian period did? Probably not, and we therefore have to accept and interpret every photograph from an era other than our own according to what the tastes of that time was, not as it is now.

Identical Twins Diane Arbus

My biggest complaint is that the author will insist on stating  that his interpretation of what a photograph is trying to tell us is the accepted standard.  I find this hard to accept when the trivia mentioned as forming vital parts of this analysis have nothing to do with the image and what it is trying to impart.  If the photographers subject is human, why does the angle of a pathway, which forms a minor portion of the overall image, have any bearing on how we interpret the view of what the image title tells us it is trying to impart?  Photograph interpretation is surely down to the individual viewing the image, and their interpretation will differ from the next person, not necessarily on major points but certainly on minor issues, depending on the interpreters lifetime experiences?

I have come away from this experience of Mr Clarke with a distinct dislike for his style and prose, but I’ve also found that unlike my initial reaction some weeks ago, some photographs do require interpretation to bring them to life, but if that is the case I’m still not sure they’re art in my interpretation of the word.

Finally, I didn’t finish reading this book, I found that the amount of time I was devoting to it wasn’t worth the reward, probably due to my prejudice of the prose style, and for that I’m sorry be cause I should be open-minded enough to accept that other people’s opinions are as valid as my own and as a student they should be helping shape mine.  If Mr Clarke was to re-write this book in an easier prose style I’d be one of the first to read it, but until then I’m afraid it’s relegated to the time when I’m serving a 10 year prison sentence and I’ve nothing better to do.


2 Responses to ‘The Photograph’ – Graham Clarke

  1. missheggie says:

    Unfortunately Mr Clarke will be unable to ‘rewrite this book in an easier prose style’ as he died in 2007 at the early age of 58. And he was a linguistic genius.

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